us were hooked on gardening when our parents gave us a tiny plot of
ground in our backyard for our first little garden. What did you
grow to ignite the spark? Given our preference, most of us would
prefer a vegetable garden layout that utilizes three-foot-wide raised
beds. Experts say this is the key to beautiful and productive
gardens. Here are the essentials of a vegetable garden.
Choose a Sunny
no better way to start than by choosing a sunny spot for your
garden. Most vegetables need six to eight hours of direct sun a
day for best results. Leafy greens like spinach and lettuce can thrive
with a bit less. As you assess your yard this winter, remember
that the deciduous trees that are leafless now will cast shadows as the
possible, locate the garden so that access to and from the kitchen is
easy and convenient. It's best if you can view the garden from a
window. When the garden is easy to see and reach, you are more apt
to notice what needs to be tended and to take full advantage of the
ideal garden location has loose soil that drains well. If your
soil isn't perfect, you can improve it over time by adding organic
matter such as compost.
Don't forget to check out Lasagna
Gardening and Organic Ade for
more soil tips.
Sizing the Garden
A 20- by 20-foot garden
gives you room to grow a wide range of crops, including some tasty
"space hogs" such as corn and winter squash. A 12- by 16-foot
plot is sufficient for a garden sampler with a variety of greens, some
herbs, a few tomatoes and peppers, beans, cucumbers and even edible
flowers such as nasturtiums for garnishes. By growing plants in
succession and using three-foot-wide beds with 18-inch paths, you should
have plenty of luscious vegetables for fresh eating and extras for
friends. You can go smaller yet and get a bountiful harvest
by gardening intensively. See out friends over at Square Foot
Gardening for the whole dirt on this!
Use the following information as a guideline, substituting crops to suit
your own tastes. Always include flowers in the vegetable garden
because they are beautiful and a joy to cut and bring indoors. Flowers
also attract pollinating insects to the garden, and some repel pests and
diseases. If you'd rather design your garden from scratch, I
recommend plotting it on graph paper. Use paper with a grid of 1/4-inch
squares, with each square representing one foot in the garden. Outline
the beds in pencil, then fill in the plant names.
Create a Garden from
If you are designing your
veggie garden from scratch, plot it on graph paper. Use paper with a
grid of 1/4-inch squares, with each square representing one foot in the
garden. Outline the beds in pencil, then fill in the plant
names. In spring, stake the garden according to your plan.
You'll need a tape measure, plenty of string, 12- to 18-inch stakes and a
hammer to drive the stakes into the ground. Mark it off as per your
plan. For best sun exposure, orient the garden so the rows run east
to west, with the tallest plants on the north end. Following your
plan, drive a stake in each of the four corners of the garden. You
may need to rototill your garden, then dig by hand, adding amendments, and
remove existing weeds.
For best sun exposure, orient the garden so the rows run east to west,
with the tallest plants on the north end. Following your plan, drive a
stake in each of the four corners of the garden. At this point
you'll need to rototill or turn the garden by hand and remove existing
If you haven't had your soil tested to determine the soil pH, do it
now. Most vegetables require a pH between 6.0 and 6.8.
Limestone is often necessary to raise the pH in high-rainfall areas; use
sulfur to lower the pH in the arid West. Your extension service will
advise you on how to test the soil and make recommendations on how to
measure and stake each garden bed, and outline the beds with string.
To raise a bed, first loosen the soil in the bed using a shovel or a
garden fork, then shovel soil from an adjacent path onto the bed.
You can also stand in a pathway and use a rake to bring up soil from the
Smooth the soil on the surface of the bed by raking, using both the tines
and the back edge of the rake. It takes time to shape the beds - but it's
important to get the beds right from the start. Draw the soil evenly
between the string boundaries, letting excess soil fall off the edge of
the bed outside the string. The object is to end up with a
flat-topped raised bed that extends fully to the string boundaries.
Each bed should rise about eight inches above the pathway. Rake the
paths to level them; you want them flat, not U-shaped.
If you want
to make your bed permanent, edge with wood, logs, bricks, rocks, or
anything else that will keep your soil in place. This will be
required if your land is sloped. You can even create raised beds
inside an old tractor tire.
Fertilizer and Soil
Gardening organically is
ideal, to address the soil's long-term needs by supplying plant nutrients
with natural fertilizers and compost. Building soil takes time, and
nutrients from most organic products are released into the soil
slowly. As you build each bed, broadcast several inches of compost
or natural fertilizers like decomposed chicken manure over the surface and
work it into the soil with a rake.
For a 12 by 16-foot garden (almost 200 square feet), use 30 pounds
of aged chicken manure, 75 pounds of horse manure or 75 pounds of
commercial compost; use twice as much for a 20- by 20-foot plot.
If your garden is being created in previously uncultivated soil, apply
five pounds of an organic fertilizer with approximately 5% nitrogen per
200 square feet. (The percentage of nitrogen is the first number of the
three listed on the label.) Fill a bucket with the total amount
you'll need for all your beds, then broadcast it evenly over the beds (not
in the paths). Rake the fertilizer into the top few inches of soil.
to Grow and When
Many vegetables are best
started from seeds sown directly in the ground (direct-sown); others go in
as seedlings. You can grow your own seedlings indoors or buy
them. As you plant, you'll need to keep in mind which vegetables are
frost-tolerant and which are not (like the tomatoes shown).
In early spring, a week or
two before the last frost, sow beets, carrots, parsnips, peas, radishes,
Swiss chard and turnips, as well as the many delectable salad greens such
as arugula, Asian mustards, cress and leaf lettuce directly in the
garden. These greens grow particularly fast from seed. After
the last frost, direct-sow beans, corn and squash. Among herbs, dill
and cilantro are sure bets from direct-sown seed.
Crops from Transplants
results are achieved if you buy or start some vegetables indoors - weeks
to months before you last frost date. Transplants of broccoli,
Brussels sprouts, heading cabbage and cauliflower, as well as, eggplant,
parsley (shown), peppers and tomatoes work best for zones 7 and
colder. We can help with that too - check out Indoor
There are several vegetables, such as summer squash, lettuce and
fall-planted broccoli, that grow and produce equally well from either
seeds or transplants. Base your choice with these crops on
convenience and timing more than anything else.
Easiest to Grow
Among the easiest vegetable
crops to grow are arugula, beets, Swiss chard, green beans, leaf lettuce,
parsley, peppers, radish, summer squash and tomatoes. All adapt well
to various regions if planted at the right time for your region.
Time it Right
The average date of last
frost in spring is the key date to use in garden planning. If you
don't know the date for your region, check with your local extension
service or a local nursery.
You can safely plant the "cool-season vegetables" such as
broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, parsley, peas, radishes and
spinach before the last frost date. In mild-winter climates, these
crops are usually planted in fall for winter gardens. Arugula,
beets, endive, leaf lettuce, parsnips, potatoes and Swiss chard are a bit
less frost-hardy but still grow well in cool weather. Plant
"warm-season vegetables" such as green beans, corn, cucumbers,
eggplant, melons, peppers, summer squash and tomatoes only after the
threat of frost has passed.
Fine-tune as You Learn
anything else, once you go through the process once or twice, you'll make
refinements. For instance, you'll discover various ways to use your
space more efficiently. A favorite method is planting a warm-season
crop such as zucchini after harvesting a cool-season crop such as
Another example is interplanting. Plant a quick-maturing crop such
as lettuce close to a slow-grower such as broccoli. The lettuce is
harvested by the time the broccoli needs the space.
for Succession Planting
tall with low/spreading
fast with slower-growing
to 4 weeks
to 3 weeks
grow a lot of one type of vegetable - tomatoes and peppers, for instance -
plant several different varieties. This increases your chances of success,
since some varieties will perform and taste better than others.
Finally, don't neglect the most obvious advice; ask your local
experts. Your local extension service can usually supply a list of
recommended vegetable varieties for your area. Master Gardeners,
garden centers and gardening neighbors are other great sources of
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